Tag Archives: UNESCO

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Sri Aurobindo’s statue in UNESCO, Paris

Sri Aurobindo's statue in UNESCO, Paris

To Mrs Irena Bokova
Director General UNESCO
Paris, France

Dear Mrs Bokova,

We met once: I have been Le Figaro’s correspondent in South Asia for ten years
I was recently in UNESCO and saw the beautiful statue of Sri Aurobindo, India’s great avatar of the 20th century and got photographed in front of it (attached)
It’s a pity that the statue is not well oriented and unkempt, as it has value for millions of Indians
I am trying to organize with Dr Vinay Sheel Oberoi, India’s UNESCO representative, an exhibition on Dara Shikoh, who was a sufi saint of the 17th century that initiated a unique interfaith dialogue very much needed today.
I am attaching a brief below
Warmly yours
François Gautier
Rédacteur en chef La Revue de l’Inde
41 Jorbagh, New Delhi 110003, Inde.

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Auroville, the City of Dawn

Auroville, the City of Dawn
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 12, 2001
The project of Auroville is now thirty-three years old. This city, a few kilometres north of Pondicherry, was born of a dream that the Mother (1878-1973) had in 1967: There should be somewhere upon earth a place that no nation could claim as its sole property, a place where all beings of goodwill, sincere in their aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that of the supreme Truth.

It was also directly inspired by Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), India’s great yogi, philosopher, poet, revolutionary and prophet of man after man: “The final dream is a step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solutions of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and dream of individual perfection and a perfect society…” Thus, in February 1968, in the midst of a severely eroded plateau extending eastward to the sea, young people representing 124 nations and 23 Indian states each placed a handful of earth from their countries in a simple lotus-shaped urn: a gesture symbolising the start of the international township. The Charter of Auroville was then read by the Mother herself: Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual search for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.

The beginnings were auspicious: money poured in from many countries keen to have a role in the shaping of Auroville; the UNESCO took a keen interest in the project; journalists and television crews from all over the world came to report about the City of the Future; and the Government of India lent active support to the budding township. One million trees were planted by the early pioneers, dams were built to stop the rain water from running into the sea; and beautiful buildings, which were revolutionary for their times, sprang up from nowhere, such as the Last School and the Sanskrit School.

Thirty-three years later, what is the assessment? Well, certainly many hopes have been belied. Instead of the 50,000 population that the Mother had envisaged, there are only about 2000 full time Aurovillians; the development of Auroville has been severely curtailed because of lack of funds, and many of the ambitious buildings lie unfinished, although, money is starting to trickle in again. The pioneers of yesterday, clad only in loincloth, have been often replaced by executives with laptops. And the cultural, social and economic gap between the 5000 villagers living in city area and the Aurovillians, many of whom come from affluent western countries, has never been fully bridged, although the standard of living of the villagers has considerably gone up because of the work generated by Auroville.

Yet small hesitant steps have been made: the circulation of money has been reduced to the minimum between Aurovillians; it has been ensured that those who are in charge of running the City are chosen by consensus and have limited tenures; communities, such as Verite (Truth in French), have managed to evolve an interesting blend of collective sharing with a living spirituality; Auroville has also become one of the few green areas in Tamil Nadu and ecologists from all over the world come to study the city’s forest and water management. And above all the `Matrimandir’, the Mother’s House, an extraordinary 100-foot-high elliptical sphere resting on four pillars sunk deep into its foundation, where in the inner chamber lies a sphere of pure crystal, 70 cm. in diameter, illuminated by sunlight channelled from an opening at the top of the chamber, stands today as Auroville’s spiritual centre.

It is no coincidence that the project of Auroville is happening in India with its tradition of tolerance and encouragement to all kinds of experiments, regardless of their unorthodoxy. Indeed, today the Government of India is once again actively helping Auroville, a positive development. For Auroville’s greatest virtue is to show that there is still, in this world engulfed by uniformity, globalisation, MTV and Coca Cola, a place where men and women of goodwill are attempting to live differently, to evolve novel ways of controlling money and power. This is why Auroville deserves our respect and help.

Marxism and the Saffron wave

Marxism and the Saffron wave

The other day I visited a tribal village, which was only 20 kms away from Bhubaneswar. The poverty I witnessed there was appalling: no drinking water, no proper housing, the children to whom we distributed food packets were sickly looking, undernourished, dirty and badly clothed.

The whole village was in a kind of wasteland, where one could not see a single tree, or any newly planted sapling. Paresh Nayak of Odisha International told me that thousands of crores had been sanctioned by the government in this area, for housing, development, or afforestation, but every single paisa goes in the pockets of corrupt officials, from top to bottom.

In fact the only organisation which is trying to do something — and which was responsible for the food distribution as well as the sole tribal school in the whole area — is the much maligned Washington-based IDRF, which is supposed, according to the Western and Indian press, to only ‘fund Hindu fundamentalism.’

Nevertheless, when one witnesses such awful and unfair poverty just a few minutes away from the nouveau riche glitter of Indian arrogant cities, one cannot but think that all the Arundhati Roys, Praful Bidwais, N Rams, Shabana Azmis, Prannoy Roys and other die hard Marxists are right: only a revolution will bring fairness and justice to the poor and downtrodden of India.

In fact, one can even go further: when people like myself, who keep defending a certain spiritual idea of India, the greatness of Hindu culture and ethos, are suddenly confronted by that ‘other’ reality of this country, our lofty drawing-room idealism is blown away by what we see, whether in Bhubaneswar, in Uttar Pradesh, or Tamil Nadu. If I were born an untouchable or a downtrodden, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have become a Naxalite — given my militant propensities!

And if tomorrow missionaries descend upon the village I just visited in Orissa and open a dispensary, a school, then a church, why shouldn’t these poor tribals convert to Christianity, when their own more fortunate Hindu brothers and sisters not only never cared after them for centuries, but stole the money which was meant for them?

Yet, all my years in India have taught me that there is a third way, which is neither of capitalism nor of communism. One could call it ‘spiritualised socialism,’ as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and today practiced by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living. A Hindu temple or a Hindu organisation has no meaning unless it also acts as a social centre, helps the poor, gives away money, houses, imparts education and hygiene.

Indeed the Art of Living foundation does just that with its volunteers going in thousands of villages all over India and selflessly bringing hygiene, housing, harmony and human values. It is true that there are countless NGOs all over India doing the same job, but unless they pass on along with their material help some spiritual values pertaining to India’s ancient culture, they are failing in their task.

Finally, I would like to tell my Marxist friends that instead of crying themselves hoarse over the BJP’s victory in Gujarat, of screaming about the ‘saffronisation of India,’ or the ‘fascist trend set by these results,’ they should look at it in a different manner. If this is a Nazi trend, then the millions of Gujarati Hindus: upper and middle class, low castes and tribals, who voted for Narendra Modi, are all Nazis.

Yet the Indian voter has always shown that he is smart and that he usually casts his ballot in a certain way because he wants to put across a message. What if Gujarat was the first sign that tolerant, peace-loving Hindus who for centuries have accepted other religions and ethnicities and allowed them to practice and prosper in peace (UNESCO recently released a report saying that out of 128 countries where the Jews lived up to 1948, in only one — India — were they not persecuted), are fed-up of being made fun off, sullied, harassed, killed, their temples sprayed with bullets and grenades, their train burnt, their Parliament attacked, their markets blown up, their women raped?

What if it was a warning to the Muslims of India that the majority community of this country will no more allow the burning of innocent children and women, for the only crime that they are Hindus? What, however reprehensible their acts was, if peace-loving Hindus have shown, for the first time, that they can retaliate in kind and that Islam doesn’t have a copyright on hatred, bloodshed and mad violence? At a time when India’s government is the laughing stock of the world — as shown by the contempt that much smaller countries such as Malaysia, Portugal or Saudi Arabia have shown to India by refusing to extradite criminals — the common Hindu is telling his government, his countrymen, whether they are Hindus, Christians or Muslims, and the world, that he has had it…